For our latest interview, we virtually sat down with David Chen, a privacy advocate who (rightfully, we would add) thinks all of us should be more engaged in our own privacy and at least make it harder for the tech giants like Google and Facebook to get to all our personal data. Here’s what he had to say…
Can you shortly introduce yourself?
I’m the co-founder of Inkable Arts. We make custom printed 1-way privacy roller shades for doorways and windows to deter visual hacking in an age when everyone is carrying a camera.
What do you see as the main challenges for our privacy today?
Consumers don’t know what they are consenting to and companies don’t want to limit their EULA’s any more than they have to. Their ideal customer is one that lets them use the information in any way they want in perpetuity either through apathy or ignorance.
In times of fear, people trade privacy for the promise of security from the government but never remember to review these consents after the threat has passed, creating a one-way ratchet where the government eventually gains the legal authority to do things the average person would find abhorrent if they knew.
Consumers routinely trade data and privacy for mundane conveniences, not realizing how much vulnerability they are exposing for how little gain.
What can we as individuals do about it?
Stop sharing so much stuff on social media, especially of your kids before they are even old enough to consent.
Periodically review the apps on your phone, and delete the ones you don’t use, or turn off permissions for ones you occasionally use. You can always turn them on when you need them again, but don’t give 24/7 access for an app you use a few times a year.
Teach your kids/spouse/friends.
Can VPNs help? Do you use one?
Maybe. VPNs make it hard for ISPs to track your web browsing so if you are in a police state where ISPs and government work hand in hand, then it might help. But the people who make the most money on your data are companies like Google and Facebook, and VPNs don’t do anything to stop that. I use router-level ExpressVPN but I don’t consider it a top priority to have. A password manager like Dashlane and a thorough understanding of cybersecurity and how your accounts are interlinked is more important.
What do you do to protect your personal information?
I post very little personal information on social media in terms of photos, locations, etc. I do post thoughts and opinions — which has its own risk — but with the increasing ease and power of deepfake AI, I want as little “source material” out there as possible. I also cover all my webcams or disconnect them when not in use, and I have refused to install any IoT / smart home devices.
Do you have some other advice for our readers so they could, at least partially, regain their privacy?
If you are going to give up privacy or personal data, make sure what you are getting in return is actually worth it. Is it really worth installing a company’s camera and microphone into your home just to avoid walking over to the light switch or getting your phone to change the music? Is it really worth saving a few dollars in groceries to install an app that requests access to your photos, contacts, location, etc?
Don’t assume that your information is “all out there” so you might as well give up. Even if your information is all out there, it’s likely scattered and that’s vitally important. When spies are building a dossier on someone, they are technically gathering information that’s “all out there” as well, whether it involves digging through their trash or following their movements. This is a ton of work and not something most of us have to worry about, so don’t make it easier than it needs to be.
“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” is often credited to Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. But the fact is that you almost certainly have something to hide. If you have friends or loved ones that confide in you, then their secrets are your secrets regardless of the legality. You cannot be a trusted confidant and an open book at the same time.